Drivers using eTags to pay freeway toll fees might receive a 10 percent discount when freeway users begin being charged by the number of kilometers traveled next year, the Ministry of Transportation and Communications said yesterday.
The proposed plan is part of the ministry’s strategy to raise the usage rate of the electronic toll-collection (ETC) system, which will be crucial to the success of the new freeway policy.
Minister of Transportation and Communications Mao Chi-kuo (毛治國) announced the plans in a briefing at the legislature’s Transportation Committee.
At present, motorists pay tolls whenever they pass through freeway toll booths. However, the policy has been deemed unfair by many. Some people never have to pay because they do not need to pass through any toll booth during their daily commute, and while each county typically has one or two toll stations, some have up to four booths and others have none.
The ministry consequently decided to start charging all freeway users based on distance traveled, and to facilitate the new policy, it launched the freeway electronic toll-collection (ETC) system in 2006, which was administered by the contractor Far Eastern Electronic Toll-Collection Co (FETC). To participate in the scheme, motorists had to purchase an on-board unit (OBU), which consists of a pre-paid card and a cardholder, to access the ETC traffic lanes on the freeways. The OBU costs NT$1,199.
However, as the contractor was unable to raise the average OBU usage rate to the percentage stated in its contract with the government, FETC decided to introduce the eTag system last year, which it made available to all motorists free of charge to encourage adoption.
Aside from the proposed discount to eTag owners, the National Freeway Bureau has also proposed a 5 percent discount to those without eTags, but who have prepaid the tolls.
Mao said that the ministry is also considering a “free kilometers” scheme, whereby each motorist will be exempt from tolls if they only drive a certain number of kilometers.
Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Legislator Lee Kun-tse (李昆澤) and Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Lin Ming-chen (林明溱) asked the ministry to give each motorist 30 free kilometers. DPP Legislator Kuan Bi-ling (管碧玲) asked for 50 free kilometers per person.
“A lot of people have already complained about the fuel and electricity price hikes, which have hurt President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) popularity,” Lin said, “We [KMT] risk losing the local [seven-in-one] elections in 2014. So I suggest we give as many free kilometers as possible.”
Mao said the ministry has yet to decide how much motorists will be charged per kilometer as well as the number of free kilometers each motorist will be given, adding that the figures must all be carefully calculated.
However, he said drivers would only be charged if they used the main traffic lanes, adding that entering a ramp and exiting immediately would not result in charges.
“Our principle is that the total revenue for the Freeway Construction Fund must not be lower than NT$22 billion [US$745 million], the amount we collected from tolls in 2011,” Mao said. “However, the new freeway tolls must not cause long-distance travelers to pay more than they do now. If we give too many free kilometers, we will have to increase toll fees — it’s like a seesaw.”